Fatal Brain Tumor Found in O'Neill

By Robert Digitale
Press Democrat
March 18, 1997

Vincent O'Neill, the North Coast priest accused of sexually molesting five teen-age boys in the 1970s, is terminally ill from a brain tumor, church officials and parishioners confirmed Monday.

Church leaders at several parishes have announced news of the illness within the past 10 days and members have prayed during Masses for the 51-year-old O'Neill.

An announcement Sunday in the St. Sebastian's Church bulletin said O'Neill "is critically ill with a brain tumor and is not expected to live more than a few weeks."

Other officials and parishioners said the priest may have as long as a year to live.

O'Neill, a North Coast priest for 25 years, resigned as pastor of Windsor's Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in November after three men went to Bishop Patrick Ziemann and alleged they had been sexually abused by the priest nearly 20 years ago.

In January the Diocese of Santa Rosa settled the claims of five men, whose names were not made public. As part of the settlement, the church agreed to require O'Neill to undergo treatment for substance abuse and his sexual problems. The church also agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of money and to send letters of apology to each man.

No criminal case resulted from the allegations. The men and their attorneys maintain that new laws allowing even old cases to be prosecuted likely will be found unconstitutional.

O'Neill is one of four North Coast priests in the past three years to face accusations of molesting teen-age boys. The church has paid settlements of more than $2 million to victims and more money in counseling for both victims and priests.

Doctors reportedly discovered cancer in O'Neill's brain after the priest appeared disoriented during his stay at an unnamed treatment center somewhere on the East Coast. O'Neill recently underwent surgery at UC San Francisco Medical Center. Two church leaders said physicians were unable to remove the entire tumor.

A hospital spokesman confirmed O'Neill was discharged from the medical center on March 10. It is unclear whether he remains in the area.

Ziemann was out of town Monday and other church officials also were unavailable for comment.

The news of O'Neill's illness has given parishioners cause to reflect once more on the priest's contributions during his years serving in North Coast churches.

"He was always very kind," said Noni de Burca, who was a parishioner of O'Neill in both Occidental and Windsor. "He always preached love for his fellow man."


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